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States of independence

A trip to the US is not only the experience of a

lifetime for pupils, but it will build their confidence too, reports Barry Millar.

We are now only five months away from our next school trip to the US, but preparation began a year ago. That's how long it takes us to raise the Pounds 17,000 needed.

The point is to give our pupils an opportunity to see the real America, not just Disneyland.

We will be in Baltimore for five days, where the youngsters stay with families and experience high school American-style as they attend classes at a private Catholic school, Calvert Hall.

This usually turns out to be a highlight of the trip as the pupils are amazed by the facilities (the school is sited on a multimillion pound campus, including its own sports stadium); the routines (the school has no uniform, although all boys must wear either a suit or jacket and tie and they follow a timetable with no school bell to let them know when to change periods), and the emphasis placed on sport in school and how closely it is linked to education.

After Baltimore, we go to New York, where the pupils get to see some major sights including the Empire State Building, 5th Avenue, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square and Central Park. They take in a show on Broadway and catch a major sporting event. The past two trips have given us the chance to see the NY Yankees play at Yankee Stadium and a basketball game at Madison Square Garden. We also visit Washington and Pennsylvania for the day.

Our outlook on the financing is simple. Parents pay a certain sum of money to cover the cost of the flights (this year it is pound;500) and all other money needed comes through fundraising. Staff who take part in the trip pay the same as the youngsters.

We raise funds for 18 months before we go, through activities such as quiz and bingo nights, cake and candy sales, race nights and bag packing in supermarkets. For the last trip, two boys organised a Sportsman's Dinner and raised more than pound;5,000.

This type of enterprise is one of the many benefits of the trip. All the pupils know they have a responsibility to help at the events and therefore take some ownership. There is no doubt about it, the experience improves their confidence and builds character.

The benefits while in the States are quite clear. Pupils have the trip of their lives, gain personal development, thrive on new experiences and see some sights they might never have had the chance to see

Barry Millar is depute principal of Menzieshill High School in Dundee

Our American dream

This will be the fourth trip we taken when we leave next Easter. Over the past three trips, the main highlight has to be the feedback from youngsters and their parents on their experience. The hard work and constant slog to raise money and organise the logistics of such a trip are certainly worth it.

The last trip was the best so far, possibly because of the combination of the people involved and the sights we saw. The finale to this particular trip happened when three of the children met Sir Sean Connery.

We were in New York during Tartan Week and they saw him getting in to a limousine outside our hotel. They shouted "Sean, Sean!" He must have recognised the accent, and was possibly intrigued as to why the youngsters were all wearing the same tracksuits (we make all of our pupils wear the tracksuits on travel days so they are easily identified). He came over to talk to them and had a picture taken with them.

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